The Huntly Carter Collection provides a rich photographic
resource on Soviet theatre in the 1920s-30s. The collection consists
of around 360 artefacts. Just over 300 are theatre related: theatrical
production stills (the majority), photo-portraits of leading figures
in the Soviet theatre (some autographed) and snapshots of Huntly
Carter with Soviet actors and directors. The production stills
cover a wide range of theatres in Moscow and Leningrad, two thirds
are from the 1920s, the rest from the 1930s. They include many
well-known productions, among others Meyerhold's The Magnificent
Cuckold (1922), The Mandate (1925) and The Bed
Bug (1929); Tairov's Machinal and Optimistic
Tragedy (1933) for the Kamerny Theatre; Granovsky's Uriel
Acosta and The Witch (1922) for the Moscow State
Jewish Theatre; Eisenstein's Enough Stupidity in Every Wise
Man (1923) and Pletnev's Lena (1921), both for the
Proletkult Theatre. The remaining items in the collection are
mainly snapshots of street scenes and new architecture in Soviet
Russia. The collection is of interest to researchers, theatre
practitioners and publishers.
Huntly Carter (1860s-1942) was a British theatre critic, journalist
and lecturer who travelled extensively in the Soviet Union in
the 1920s-30s. A passionate believer in the transformative role
of theatre in society, he was struck by the 'new spirit' that
developed in Russian theatre after the October Revolution of 1917
and became strongly sympathetic to the Soviet project that had
enabled such a cultural transformation. In the UK, Carter was
an energetic advocate of the Soviet avant-garde theatre, presenting
it as a template for a similar revolution in the British theatre.
Today there is renewed interest in Huntly Carter's life and work.
Carter's interest in avant-garde Russian theatre pre-dates the
Revolution: his 1913 book The New Spirit in Drama and Art
includes a chapter on Moscow, based on a visit in 1911. However,
during the 1920s-30s he travelled regularly to the USSR, meeting
the leading theatre directors, actors and stage designers of the
day, attending the annual theatre festivals, and collecting a
mass of photographs, theatrical ephemera and documentary material.
He was in constant correspondence with Soviet theatre practitioners,
individual theatres and cultural institutions. This all became
the source material for Carter's prolific output as a writer and
lecturer. His travels to Soviet Russia in the 1920s resulted in
two key books: The New Theatre and Cinema of Soviet Russia
(1924) and The New Spirit in the Russian Theatre (1929).
These books provide an exciting sense of the revolutionary spirit
of that time in the theatre, they record his meetings with actors,
directors and designers, describe in detail the theatrical productions
he saw, and define different stages and approaches in the development
of the new Soviet theatre.
Carter was a founding member of our Society (then known as the
Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, or SCR), which was
established in July 1924. He remained a member until his death
in 1942, when part of his personal collection relating to the
USSR (mainly photographs) was bequeathed to the Society. This
bequest forms the Huntly Carter Collection in the SCRSS Photo
Library. The collection is fully digitised but not yet catalogued
online. In 2023 the Society will continue its review of our existing
captions list against the original artefacts, and in due course
plans to make this available in our online library catalogue.
For more information, see feature article Huntly Carter and
the 'New Spirit' in Soviet Theatre, SCRSS
Digest, Summer 2022 (Issue SD-26), pages 8-13.